In this line of work, brokenness is a concept we are very familiar with.
Broken lives, broken families, girls who have been used and taken advantage of and kicked to the curb; boys too, more and more commonly. Trafficking at it’s core, is a study of brokenness. Men and women, most of whom were abused and abandoned themselves, go on to take advantage of the most vulnerable people in society: the poor, the uneducated, the abused. It’s hard to find scenarios more disrupted, more heart-breaking, more wrecked, than the lives of the girls we serve.
Yesterday I attended New Heart Community Church, the church that started My Refuge House in 2008. This beautiful congregation of only about 100 people still contain our most dedicated volunteers and a few times a year they gladly help us stuff envelopes for our newsletters (Want to get on the mailing list? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org).
Pastor Danny Cortez, in his sermon, mentioned the Japanese word and concept “Wabi Sabi.” This concept shook my world a bit. There is no literal or direct translation of this concept, but the definition is a good place to start. Wabi means “humble,” but the root word, Wa, means tranquility or harmony. Sabi refers to the natural progression of time, carrying with it the understanding that things will grow old and become less conventionally beautiful. Together they describe a concept that the Japanese revere: that there is beauty in imperfection, beauty in brokenness. The scars of life, which everyone carries, are actually the parts of the person that make them most beautiful, most unique, most magnificent.
In fact, Wabi Sabi means that scars and blemishes on the outside of a precious item, actually serve to magnify the purity and greatness of the whole object.
As a culture, in the western world, we have been taught to revere perfection. Only the most beautiful people get roles in the public eye, and Dove showed us that most of the people’s faces we see on the media are so engineered that they are unrecognizable anyway (If you’ve been living under a rock, and haven’t seen the video view it here) We’ve come to revere a type of perfection that is either unattainable, or will kill us in the pursuit. We revere productivity that produces workaholics and beauty that is is impossible to achieve.
For example, in some Japanese pottery, artists who will take pieces of pottery with cracks and blemishes and fill in those scars with pure gold. Instead of trying to cover up the imperfections, to make them blend in and become
indistinguishable, the artists enhance them, filling them in with luminescent gold. Why do that? Why put something of distinct value into a broken pot? Why make those places that were once weak enough to break the focal point of the object, enforced, magnified and made strong again with an invaluable substance?
Because the brokenness, the imperfection, in and of itself, is the most valuable part. And the gold, well, it only serves as a way to enhance the immeasurable worth that the imperfections represent in the piece. And strength emerges in the vulnerable places. Reinforced by the strength, beauty and attention the gold brings.
God says in scripture that in our weakness he is glorified the most, because those are the times when we step back and say “Ok God, you have to cover up for my lack now.” And miraculously, when we pray those prayers, He does. He really does.
It is a huge challenge, working with trafficking survivors. To say that the survivors and their families are very, very broken people would be a gross understatement. It is often heartbreaking, working with them, fighting for them. But the beauty, the absolute radiance, of watching someone who has been through unspeakable horrors, rise up, in spite of them all, because of them all…
Words cannot really describe this. But maybe the words “Wabi Sabi” can.